Supermarket giant Morrisons is ready to test its ambitions in the c-store sector amid rumours that it is considering a franchise offer for independents.

The chain's first c-store under the M Local brand opens this month in Ilkley, Yorkshire, with stores in Wilmslow, Greater Manchester, and Widnes, Lancashire, to follow. Sources in the City suggest that the supermarket chain is looking at options to increase its portfolio of neighbourhood outlets, including making a bid for an existing fascia operator.

However, a spokesman for the supermarket insisted that the current focus was on the three-store trial.

He told C-Store: "We are confident that there is demand for M Local, but it's important we get the concept right and that's what the trial is about. It's too early to say how we might grow our estate beyond that."

Morrisons chief executive, Irish-born Dalton Philips, was previously chief operating officer at Canada's largest food retailer Loblaw, which has 450 franchised outlets within its 1,000-strong store portfolio.